Friday, July 1, 2011

The Ignorance of Poverty

One of the problems faced by the Philippines is what I might call the ignorance of poverty. I don't mean ignorance in a negative sense, and maybe there are better words for the condition that I am trying to characterized. Uninformed, perhaps. Uneducated. An innocent lack of exposure to other ways to behave. Lack of awareness. Some would say lazy minds, but that is negative.

Here's what I am talking about. Western standards of order on the highways hold to certain rules, those cited in the regulatory codes that dictate who has the "right of way" in a given situation. A vehicle turning left must yield to a vehicle coming straight, but the turning vehicle has the right of way over a car approaching it from behind. These rules allow each driver to understand what the other will do; this prevents frequent gnashings of metal and huge hospital bills.

The Philippines has essentially the same written codes, but a very different, unwritten interpretation of them. The bigger vehicle is generally acceded the right of way, a truck over a car, a car over a motorcycle, a motorcycle over a human powered tricycle. That is not written anywhere, but that is what happens. Some Filipinos claim the right of way by driving fast, careening about so that any sane opposing driver would head for the rice field rather than try to claim his rightful side of the road. Others flash their lights, essentially telling other drivers, "I'm coming, stay out of my way." And pedestrians know never, never trust that the painted crosswalk will afford any protection unless a traffic official is there to stand up for you.

The interesting thing is, these unwritten rules of the road keep traffic moving here, where traffic lights are few, lines on roads are scarce, police are snoozing, and vehicles of many types swarm for the same space. I've learned not to give way to pedestrians under risk of getting the pedestrian hit by someone behind me without the same sense of consideration. I've learned to be aggressive at busy crossroads, granting no mercy lest I bring traffic to a confusing halt. It is rather a rock and roll dance, circulating in and through the madcap flows of traffic. Or, as I have characterized it elsewhere, akin to Disney's ancient thrill for kids, "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride".

But the aggressiveness is a part of what I call the Ego-bound model of Filipino behavior. It is every driver for himself; other vehicles are just pieces of metal to dodge. There are no PEOPLE with personalities and mothers and kids in them. So who cares about their welfare? And this attitude is prominent in everyday life, too. Cutting in front of others in line is a natural. Playing loud music until the wee hours of the morning even though the neighbor has kids in school the next day. Pitching trash out the bus window, as if it disappears from earth when it is out of sight.

And the greater part of the Philippines is exposed to no order but this inconsiderate order.

"Who cares? It is our society", some Filipinos argue. "You Americans are wasteful hogs who don't care a whit about others."

Ouch. Worthy argument. Score 2.

But this relentless self-engagement is what prevents the Philippines from being productive, from having jobs, from gaining wealth and the safety and security that wealth provides. Western business people recognize that people are "markets" because they have needs. A business fares better by serving those needs than by being brusque or autocratic. The number of autocrats in business in the Philippines is simply astounding. And this self-engagement precludes certain aspects of efficiency, such as the understanding that appointments make things operate better for all parties. Again, like a broken record, or scratched CD . . . from efficiency . . . Comes productivity, profits and jobs. The Filipino merchant seems unaware that a smile brings a customer back. Jolibee is the exception; cheerful staff.

But as I drove through the Tacloban Zoo yesterday, known locally as downtown, it struck me as I was being swarmed by rude, pushy red motorcycle cabs that it would be impossible to get the drivers to understand the connection between their behavior and the number of jobs the Philippines can produce. It would be simply impossible to get past the rationalizations they would throw up. The blank stares. And however you say "Huh?" in Visayan.

Indeed, it is even difficult to get intelligent people to understand that rude is not productive.

Neither schools nor television nor blogs nor priests are capable of providing the kind of life's perspective that is necessary for people to grasp the connection. Thus, ignorance prevails.

So I guess it is written in stone somewhere that Filipinos are destined to be blind, and destined to go about not knowing where they aim, ever again shooting themselves in the foot. And . . . Hahahaha . . . with no idea who pulled the trigger. Not even the educators know.

Joe do, though. Joe do.


  1. You don't really get it Joe. Filipinos don't live to be "efficient." We are all about enjoying life dude. Many studies have shown that people in developed countries are actually very unhappy compared to people in less wealthy countries. So the world can actually learn a lot from the Philippines. Despite hardships and challenges that would make the average westerner beg for Prozac, we are still very happy and content with ourselves.

    Disagree? Oh wait, you live here! Could it be that you are having as much fun as we are?

    Haha! Checkmate Joe!

  2. Ursus pedophilius philippinensisJuly 1, 2011 at 9:50 AM

    Filipinos should learn to be efficient and cut down their party-party fiesta sh*t. Because if we don't, then the Philippines will end up as a failed state in ten years no thanks to Pinoy pride ego-triumphalists like you.

    Your kind can choose to be happy, but it will never improve the sorry condition of our country. STOP DRINKING THAT YELLOW KOOL-AID AND GET YOUR SH*T TOGETHER!

  3. Denial, distractions and rationalizations aren't the same as enjoying life.

  4. Ursus,

    Your logic is flawed. You assume that the Western Standard of Success is "the Standard." It is all relative dude. Some people want to be rich (and unhappy) while others opt for a more simple yet meaningful life.

    Where you and JOE are absolutely wrong is that you pass self-righteous judgement on people who have chosen a different path in life. Seriously dude, ANG KAPAL NG MUKHA NIYO!!! Sino ba kayo para maliitin kami?

  5. Thanks Joe for your very objective analysis and observations -- it is true and I have seen it too from the external point of view though I am a Pilipino."Could it be that you are having as much fun as we are?" Yes, indeed, Mr Proud Pinoy, he does. The good thing is he is doing something to open our eyes and on the contrary you live in denial.
    Ang kapal ng mukha mo na manumbat wala ka naman ginagawang maganda.

  6. PP, I think your ideal that living a simple, more meaningful life than we relentlessly consuming Americans live is admirable, but I can assure you my logic is not flawed in knowing that the people who live in squatters villages, or fish or pedal a tricycle or stoop in the rice fields for P150 a day, want more than what they have. I don't pass judgment on you and your chosen lifestyle. I pass judgment on a society that refuses to take care of its own.

  7. Joe,

    Again, you impose your western standards upon us. You see poor people, I see them as blessed:

    "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (Luke Ch 6)

    You desire us to be successful and "efficient" but you forget:

    "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19)

    So you are going to tell me I am delusional religious nut now? So are you going take away OUR Catholic Religion as well? Are you going to tell us what food we should eat, what language we should speak? Where does it end Joe?

    You want to make us modern and yet you refuse to acknowledge the FACT (as shown in many studies) that people in more developed countries are more unhappy compared to people in less developed ones.

  8. PP, Yes, Western standards have plenty of flaws, and I argue against the ones I don't like (self-serving, deceitful politics and relentless consumption among them). Yes, plenty of westerners are unhappy. But it seems to me you are the one who is imposing standards on people to their disadvantage. You are saying people living on dangerous mudbanks, who do not have medical care, who are exposed to all kinds of pollution are "blessed"? You don't want to do anything to help them? THAT is the way of the Catholic faith?

    The main point of the article is that self-involved inconsiderate behavior works against the interest of those who want a more robust economy. Are you in favor of self-involved inconsiderate behavior? Or do you disagree that it is common? Or do you think it has no bearing on the economy?

  9. " Filipinos don't live to be "efficient." We are all about enjoying life dude. "

    Wow proud pinoy, that sounds really pathetic

  10. @Joe, you're right.
    @PP: i know what you mean, filipinos want to enjoy, party,relax. they spend all their money today and dont care what happens tomorow. there are some filipinos who are different witch try to adapt the best of the wester lifestyle and the filipine lifestyle (about 2% of the population). And the rest of the population dont realize where the Philippines is going, the philippines is too dependent on other countries (western countries), what will the philippines do if all the aid and help will be stopped one day?? Will the filipinos still party and relax and not work 1 week coz of fiesta? Filipinos think that for example a country like germany is rich; Rich? Germany was completely down after the 2nd worldwar and was build up with hard work by it's own people and by relaxing. Please be noted that germany and philippines are countries with almost the same size in land, and were same in population ones around 82 million; but the philippines has 100 million now. PP, reflect and think what will happen if all 8 million filipinos abroad will have to go home and all 600k callcenter workers will lose their job. The filipinos will have to work very hard after.

  11. Anon, interesting that you should cite Germany. NOt only was Germany obliterated by bombs, but it absorbed the beat-down East Germany. It used the accumulation of "need" as a market to sell into, and developed the industry and technology to employ those needy, selling into its own markets and abroad. The Philippines has a vast market of need. It simply needs the foresight and "what if" problem-solving that you demonstrate to develop the industries that fulfill its own needs. It could do this, for example, by switching from "farming" to "agribusiness". In otherwords, getting serious about producting product, unstead of using farms to support the indigent.

  12. Ursus pedophilius philippinensisJuly 3, 2011 at 9:43 PM

    "you pass self-righteous judgement on people who have chosen a different path in life."

    And I assume that you don't want our country to change for the better.

    Fine. Keep your set of faiths and beliefs. You don't need to shove it. Once we become progressive, don't ever take credit for the success of people who chose a disciplined, long-term and results-oriented path in life and leech from our fruits of labor.

    You call the poor blessed, I call them an untapped potential. I believe that when the poor "gets real" and become productive, they will have a better way of life compared to people who live in lies indoctrinated by those who wish to keep people ignorant, destitute, desperate and indolent.

  13. Ursus-
    How right you are -- "indoctrinated by those who wish ...", I know what you mean, it's the catholic church, and you are right.